Chapter Three



Another of my memories is of the smuggling then carried out immensely on all our coasts, but especially there [Dover], as French goods were so heavily taxed. People of every grade were connected with it, those who were in authority to check it were equally involved. Dover was intersected by very narrow alleys through which it was dangerous to pursue the smugglers with their goods. Trap doors were constant down which the heavily laden smuggler suddenly dropped out of sight, to escape through houses far away, or the pursuers fell into these places, suddenly opened under their feet. Dover was honey-combed with passages above and under ground, and troops of pack horses stood ready saddled outside the town whenever a good cargo was run. Often was heard the shouts of the parties of Preventive Men and smugglers.

One night I remember being woke and running into the nursery, roused by pistol and firing. My nurse and the other servants were at the windows, and I saw a dark mass on the parade in front. It was a stretcher, with a wounded man, and he groaned dreadfully, then died. I was hurried off to bed, when discovered, but the recollection of this struggle was never forgotten. Afterwards I learnt that Lieut. Pecke, who commanded the Preventive Men was wounded, and fell on the beach – his white trousers formed a mark in the dim light for the smugglers, who, as they left in their boat fired repeatedly at the prostrate man. Upwards of twenty bullets were in his body and limbs, but not one fatal.

Speaking of smugglers reminds me of my mother’s act of involuntary smuggling – at least unwittingly.

Among the thousands of persons who now annually cross the strip of water dividing our little Island from the Continent of Europe, but few of that vast host of travellers find pleasure in the short voyage. Some possibly do enjoy the freedom and fresh air, and relief from the railway carriage which is afforded on the deck of the Calais-Douvre, or other of the fine vessels which transport them so quickly to a foreign port. But to the majority the sea has few attractions even with favourable wind and bright sunshine. Most fall victims to the almost inevitable sea-sickness, and only rejoice when once more on firm ground, pursuing their journey in the carriage, rather than on the shifting ocean. I wonder if among us, who can now take their breakfast in London, and lunch in Calais or Boulogne, thanks to the mighty power of steam – there are many living yet, who can recall what this short journey was to their forbears, in the latter years of George the 3rd’s reign. True the misery of sea-sickness cannot be wholly avoided, but usually such of this suffering is alleviated by careful attendants in a luxurious steam vessel – at all events, it is of short duration. Let me tell you the story of this passage in the year of Grace 1817.

My parents had married in the month of June in that year, and were living, as most did whose occupation was professional, in the city of London. People in those days mostly were dwellers in towns unless they possessed property in Land, and lived upon it. Holidays were infrequent, as we may learn from Mrs. Gilpin’s address to her Spouse – watering places were but just coming into existence. Brighton or as it was then called Brighthelmstine had been visited by the Prince Regent who chose to be bathed in the sea. Dover and Margate were still little more than fishing villages – in all these places a few houses had sprung up close to the shore, and well to do people posted in their own carriages to Brighton, or in the one Stage Coach, to Margate, adventurous holiday-makers, travelled occasionally in the “Hoy” or sailing Boat.

As a rule the world staid at home, and enjoyed the simple pleasure of visits to their friends who had houses in the Country or town. As I said, my father and mother had settled into their new London house in June, and in the course of the Autumn my grandfather had a Cause brought to him for legal Advice which was connected with some French residents at St. Omer belonging to the College at that place. As the Cause proceeded under consideration, it became necessary to send a qualified lawyer to St. Omer, for the purpose of making due inquiry from parties involved, and as my father spoke French, as well as read it, he was selected to act for the Firm, and at once to proceed to France. To him, no greater pleasure could have been proposed he loved the sea, and but for family trouble, would have been in the Navy – he absolutely hated office life, so that the excursion was full of delight to him. My mother, whose acquaintance with marine matters was limited to a passage in the said Margate Hoy, the sea was a thing to shun – but she was young, and just married, and could not endure being left alone, while her husband made this long voyage. Moreover, she was ambitious, and knew that in the year 1817 “to have been in France” would secure to her a proud preeminence at her friends’ Tea parties.

Until after the fall of Napoleon, France was closed to the English as early in the Century the Emperor had ordered the detention of all our Country people, then in France, many of whom were kept there in prison for seven or eight years. Our friends Mr. Cazenove and his eldest son were among these. Of course, there were many of these poor “detenus” as they were called, who never saw home again. To return from this digression.

The young couple had enjoyed the journey by Stage Coach from London, the road to Dover through Sevenoaks, Rochester and Minster being most picturesque, and the woods and hedges lovely in the tints of early Autumn. There was really charm in travel in those days, and being rarely had, increased the delights. Now, it has become our every day experience of which we are often weary.

Steam boats had been experimented on for several years, and the passage from Holyhead to Dublin accomplished by one, but as yet, only sailing vessels crossed the Channel to France from Dover, and the length of the voyage depended on wind and tide, as well as the quality of the boats and skill of Captain and crew. As the Mails, and Government Dispatches were sent, the boats were usually good – but to the landsman, the sea is a trying experience, and though my father loved it, my mother who had endured some of its horrors in a Margate Hoy, did not fail to realise the miseries of the ordinary Mal de Mer, though cheered by the prospect of soon being in France.

Few persons can now realise what was the exquisite pleasure and excitement then, which was felt on first landing “Abroad” – books, pictures, photos, and descriptions now render all more or less familiar, but upwards of 80 years ago, few comparatively even imagined the absolute novelty, involved in landing for the first time at a French Port. The crowds of sailors, and country people, vociferating in a strange language. The difference in the small boats, the variety of dress, and the then, striking costume of the women, added to the entire novelty in the style of buildings in the town – all officials in uniform, and apparently all quarrelling, for so their foreign excitement and action appeared to be, were most bewildering to the English stranger. My father spoke the language however, and produced his Foreign Office passport, and Credentials to the proper authorities, who promptly cleared his luggage, and directed him to the best hotel. A huge rambling place, not yet recovered from the effects of the terrible Revolution and Wars, and apparently destitute of all the comfort even then enjoyed at the best English Inns.

No doubt in one respect our neighbours in France were ahead of our Country – namely the cooking, which was utterly unknown here, even among the highest classes of society, and it must have been a wonderful experience to ordinary persons, accustomed only to the plain, simple cooking of joints of meat and poultry, invariable then at home, to be introduced to the delicate ragouts, fricassees and other gastronomic novelties of a first rate French Cuisine. The luxury of the table was not equalled by the comforts of the toilette afforded in the great bare room then prepared for guests, and my mother always said she was nearly smothered in the French down bed, under which she had slipped, and could not raise herself, until assisted. Now we know the French beds are models of enjoyment.

As time was precious, it was decided to prosecute the journey to St. Omer, by a chaise a porte which doubtless was preferred by my father to the slow, crowded, and cramped “Diligence” which lingered at every stopping place. The “Chaise” was an antiquated vehicle, possibly had been the grand coach of some of the unfortunates whose belongings had been ruthlessly seized in the revolutionary years, whilst the owners forfeited lives as well as property. The little old postillion, in cocked hat, scarlet coat trimmed with gold (tarnished) and jack boots up to his thighs, was a droll object, and the rope harness of his stable horses, to whom he talked incessantly as friends, would not have suited our English posting horses.

St Omer was reached but too soon, and the French authorities received my parents with the utmost hospitality and courtesy. Whilst my father carried his object through in the Courts of Law, my mother was shown all worthy of notice in the old City, and having greatly appreciated their first visit to so famous a foreign town, the return became needful as legal matters were pressing.

But October soon evidenced its less favourable aspect, rain, wind and storms set in, so that on arriving in Calais the prospect of the voyage across the Channel as it then was, occasioned much trepidation.

On going on board the Packet Boat early the following morning, things looked worse. Fortunately there was only two other female passengers, so there was a hope that my mother would be more comfortable in the cabin than with a large number. The word comfort could not be used at all we should say, when we contrast the accommodation offered in those old Sailing vessels, with the gorgeous magnificence and sumptuous decorations which are now expected in our Steam ships. A few steep stairs let down into a small cabin in mid ship for women. Scarcely room to move or stand, if there were occupants for the four or six narrow berths which were placed over each other on the sides of the cabin, no hooks for outside garments, no well arranged lavatory, no clean, wholesome looking blankets or bedding, and yet many a great Lady had endure this entire absence of all that was needful, when perhaps she was suffering to a pitiable extent. I think our Ancestors of the female sex were brave to dare crossing the Channel in earlier times. In still earlier days, what must have been this sea voyage to the Queens and Noble Ladies who since the Conquest had been obliged to encounter the terrors of the sea route from the Continent in vessels which bore the same proportion as to comfort when compared to the Packet of 1819 as did that vessel with a Steamer to America in 1900.

It was with much difficulty the travellers had reached the deck of the vessel, the drenching rain and gusts of wind rendering their foothold precarious in getting on board. My father with difficulty could support his poor wife, who was terrified by the turmoil of wind and waves, and the noise of the sailors and crowd of men about her. The Captain however, recognised my father as his passenger of a few days previous, and coming forward kindly advised him “to take” Madame at once into the cabin, where she would be sheltered from the rain, for, as he confided to my father, “It blows rather hard, and Madame will be safer and more comfortable in her berth.” But seeing my father could scarcely keep his footing, the Captain summoned a sailor, who was the forerunner of the Stewards of our day, bestowing his attention equally on both sexes of the passengers, a Stewardess was an unknown luxury.

By the aid of this functionary, my mother was safely assisted down the steep stairs into the dark little hole called the Ladies Cabin “par excellence” in which there was no light save from a dim lamp in one corner, and scarcely room to move. However, there were but two French women in possession, and one of these who spoke a little English, came at once to my mother’s aid, showing great interest in the dripping condition of “Madame’s” garments and helped to remove her wet cloak. The Steward then told my father he must leave Madame, and himself be escorted to the large Cabin for the male passengers, at this time the ship was loosing from her moorings and rolling painfully, so there was no use in delaying his departure with the Steward, though my mother implored not to be left.

The kind, bright French women entreated her to be calm – assured here she would be quite safe, that she and her friend constantly make the voyage, and that if only Madame would lie down in a berth and go to sleep she would find herself in Dover “de suite”. She then proceeded to make her as comfortable as was in her power, removing her bonnet and wraps, taking off the damp dress and hanging it to dry, ready for the landing, and carefully enveloping her in blankets, disposing the pillows skilfully. But the poor passenger could not be soothed, the roar of the sea, the straining of the ship, the creaking of cordage, the stamping of Sailors over head on the deck, shouting and vociferating as the ship pitched forward in the waves, so absolutely distracted her, she could but call for her husband and entreat the French woman to go and fetch him, very soon, however, a change came, the horror of the surroundings was merged into another form of agony, the sea claimed its victim, and all minor ills were obliterated in the utter abandonment of Mal de Mer.

From the slight information my mother could give of those hours of suffering the French woman continued her kindly ministrations, doing all that was possible for the sufferer. At length the weary day was passing and a slight abatement of wind and rain allowed the unhappy traveller to sleep. After a while she was roused by hearing much chattering between her fellow voyagers, but she was too utterly exhausted to pay much attention, when she was startled by finding one of them close to her berth, and saw her companion fastening the door of the Cabin. Another then seized her, and she tried to move, but a heavy hand restrained her, and she found her voice had failed. The French woman who had treated her so kindly, held her fast, and at once told her, she had need of her services, and must submit to what had to be done; that no harm would come to her, if only she acted according to their will. Too alarmed and feeble to speak my mother had no choice save to submit.

The berth coverings were removed, from parcels which these women had carried in pockets under their thick woollen skirts, was produced an immense quantity of exquisite French lace, from Valenciennes, Mechlin and other places, which was to be safely conveyed to London without aid of the Customs. With the utmost deftness of hand, the women unfolded their packets of lace, and proceeded to wind them smoothly round my poor mother’s body, arms and legs, who was utterly helpless from alarm and exhaustion, yards upon yards of lace were thus packed out of sight, round and round her legs was more of this delicate and costly fabric placed, and a great pair of stockings were drawn over her feet and legs so as to entirely conceal all. Then they lifted their unwilling accomplice on to a seat, and proceeded to wrap her up in her own garments, over which they fastened a great heavy shawl, so that she was reduced to the condition of a large bundle.

By this time the vessel was in calmer waters, and as the French women knew, Dover was sighted, one of the conspirators insisted on my mother eating a biscuit and gave her some stimulant which restored her a little, the other then left the Cabin and made her way to the deck. As she supposed my father had recovered before this, and was endeavouring to make his way to the Ladies Cabin. She arrested his farther progress by saying she came at the request of “Cette Chere brave Madame” to tell him she was better, but hardly capable of standing or moving alone, “So Monsieur,” added this amiable French woman, “we have done all we could for her, and as we also are going to the same Hotel, we shall assist her farther by taking her with us on shore, as we have no luggage, you can then clear all yours at the Custom House without delay, and we shall see Madame into her room before you come, as she could not walk without our help.” My father expressed himself gratefully to this kind friend, who returned to the Cabin. And shortly the landing was effected. The crowd on deck in the dim light of the lanterns and oil lamps was very bewildering, and my father could not extricate himself to reach the female passengers, he saw the French woman carefully leading, almost carrying my mother, and one called to him saying all was well. With difficulty my mother’s helpless figure was hauled on to the wharf, and then by the powerful aid of her two attendants, dragged and carried to the Hotel near by.

The landlord who was waiting to receive his guests at once summoned a Chamber Maid to convey this poor Lady, who, as the French woman said, had almost died, to a room. In a second, the wraps and clothing were torn off my mother, in an incredibly short time, the invaluable lace she had unwittingly landed free of duty, was unrolled, and quickly placed in the capacious pockets of the women’s gowns who having laid their unwilling assistant on her bed, left the apartment, wishing her “bon repos” and laughingly thanked her. What her state was, when joined soon after by my father, and what was his furious wrath and indignation, I cannot describe. The woman had in Dover their accomplices as most of the inhabitants were connected with the smuggling trade, and in a few minutes after leaving the Hotel, would have been freed from their dangerous and valuable cargo.

I have related in this, my mother’s only venture in Continental travelling, it was her first and last. At the time the adventure tried her much, and she was always charged with having thus cleverly baffled H.M’s Custom House Officers.

P.S. For many years after the episode narrated, smuggling continued until the abolition of heavy duties on foreign commodities, rendered it no longer profitable to risk life or liberty for gain.


Continue to Chapter Four: Mary’s childhood – Reading – Gypsies – Running away – General naughtiness